• Robert Duvall and his Cavalry Stetson in Apocalypse Now


    Robert Duvall as LTC Kilgore in Apocolypse Now - CavHooah.com

    Nearly every Cav Trooper remembers the scene in "Apocalypse Now" when Robert Duvall prepared for his assault in his Stetson. The fearless American badass. Cav, Hooah.

    Robert Duvall portrayed Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in the movie Apocalypse Now (1979) and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also won both a BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award for that role. His line "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" from Apocalypse Now is now regarded as iconic in cinema history. Here is the full movie quote:

    "You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. But the smell! You know - that gasoline smell... the whole hill! Smelled like... victory. (Pause) Some day this war is going to end..."


    You can watch it here on Youtube:

    Those lines were at one time voted the best speech in cinema history in a movie fans poll. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now is without question one of the best Vietnam war movies ever made. True military movie trivia fans know that Duvall actually wore more than one hat in the movie. His two major scenes were actually filmed six months apart. When the character is first introduced, walking through a Vietnamese village throwing his "calling cards" on the bodies, his Stetson has the silver leaf, which is the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. It also has a regulation-size set of crossed sabers, the branch insignia for the Cavalry.

    He is later seen on the beach and just prior to the "Ride of the Valkyries" attack wearing a similar hat, but adorned with only a large set of crossed sabers. He is also said to be seen earlier with the hat cords for a warrant officer, which are silver/black instead of gold/black, but it is reportedly only readily-visible in the digitally remastered version of the movie. One of the actual prop hats used in the movie sold at auction in 2005 for over $4800.00. His actual uniform was also up for auction at one time and sold for $15,000. The initials "R.D." are handwritten on the inside of the hat in white marker. The hats were made by Baron California Hats, who currently sell reproduction hats just like the one here for up to $1280 each.

    Cavalry Stetson worn by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now

    Here is the link to the auction: AmericanMemorabilia.com

    LTC Kilgore was unique, but not uncommon for Air Cavalry soldiers at that time. In this interview, Duvall explains not only the two different sides of the character, but also discusses some of the madness of the real Air Cavalry Troopers who served in Vietnam, and the Stetsons and spurs that they wore:  



      The Stetson tradition is believed to have been originated in early 1964 by LTC John B. Stockton (Commander of 3/17 Cavalry) at Fort Benning,Georgia. The hat was adopted in an effort to increase esprit de corps in the new air cavalry squadron and was meant to emulate the look of the 1876 pattern campaign hat worn by cavalry troopers long ago. Once units deployed to Vietnam , the custom slowly spread to other air cavalry units, and by the cessation of hostilities, virtually all air cav (and some ground cav) units had adopted the Cav hat. Read more about the Cavalry Stetson tradition here.